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Letter to the Senate in support of the Higher Education Access Act

July 18, 2007

Dear Senator:


On behalf of the National Education Association's (NEA) 3.2 million members, including some 200,000 students, faculty, and staff at postsecondary institutions, we urge you to vote YES on the Higher Education Access Act (S. 1762), which could come to the floor as early as today, and to oppose any weakening amendments. This important legislation would make a real difference in making postsecondary education more financially accessible by increasing grant aid for low income students and making student loan debt more manageable. Votes associated with these issues may be included in the NEA Legislative Report Card for the 110th Congress.

Since 1965, the Higher Education Act (HEA) has embodied the nation's commitment to ensure, as a matter of basic fairness, that no one is denied a college education because of his or her financial circumstances. Millions of students have attended higher education institutions because of the financial assistance programs offered by the HEA. Today, however, the decreased purchasing power of federal student aid and the increasing reliance on loans rather than grants, particularly by financially disadvantaged students, is putting this 40-year commitment in jeopardy.

A college degree is more necessary than ever these days. Access to postsecondary education allows individuals to succeed in jobs with career potential and upward mobility. Expanding postsecondary education opportunities also helps ensure a well-educated workforce that is competitive for the 21st century. Yet, over 100,000 college-eligible students drop out of applying to college due to cost. And more and more students graduate with deep debt, making it very difficult for them to enter socially valuable but lower-paying fields such as teaching.

The Higher Education Access Act would help college students and their families struggling to pay for a college degree by:

  • Increasing the Pell Grant maximum to $5100 next year and to $5400 by 2011;
  • Simplifying the process of applying for federal student loans;
  • Increasing income protections for working students by raising the amount they can earn without reducing their financial aid awards; and
  • Capping monthly loan payments at 15 percent of discretionary income.

We urge you to oppose any amendments that would weaken these important changes. Specifically, we urge you to oppose an amendment that may be offered by Senators Nelson (D-NE) and Burr (R-NC) that would eliminate funding for changes to student loan programs that would make loan repayment more manageable for graduates going into lower paying jobs.

Again, we urge you to vote YES on S. 1762.

Sincerely,

Diane Shust, Director of Government Relations

Randall Moody, Manager of Federal Advocacy